After he won a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Indian wrestler Sushil Kumar distinctly remembers being told to ‘retire on a high’.
But Sushil Kumar’s Olympics dream wasn’t done, just yet.
Four years later, his hunger and determination saw him stand on the Olympic podium once more, this time with a silver medal, as Sushil Kumar became the first and only Indian to win two individual Olympic medals
“After I won the bronze medal in Beijing, I still felt I had a lot more to achieve.”
Topsy-turvy road to Olympic dream at London
With the Beijing 2008 bronze in his kitty, Kumar had already established himself as the premier 66kg freestyle wrestler in the country. His performances only vindicated his status.
In 2009, he won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Wrestling Championships held in Jalandhar.
The Indian grappler then enjoyed an incredible 2010 season, as he won gold medals at the Asian Wrestling Championships and the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi as well as top honours at the World Wrestling Championships in Moscow.
“I injured my right shoulder and there was a time where my qualification was at stake. I had even missed one qualification tournament,” the Indian wrestler remembers.
Sushil Kumar, though, fought back to book his ticket to London after he won the gold medal at a qualifying tournament in China.
Sushil Kumar’s Olympic medal at London
Having conquered pain in style, Sushil Kumar’s path to the 2012 London Summer Olympics, met another issue -- weight.
He was six kilos overweight and he had just 10 days to cut it down before the London Games weigh-in was scheduled.
Sushil Kumar pushed his body to the absolute limit. He starved himself and wore heavy clothes while doing his cardio exercises but the night before his first bout, it took a turn for the worse.
The Indian wrestler threw up the electrolytes he had been given by the team doctor, got muscle cramps and experienced spasms all over his body.
The three-man Indian wrestlers’ contingent and long-time coach Yashvir Singh took turns to massage him and keep him hydrated.
To make matters worse, his opponent in the first round was Beijing 2008 gold medallist Ramazan Sahin of Turkey and grappling with him after only three hours of sleep seemed like a difficult task. Yet, Sushil Kumar managed to progress.
He won the first round but the Indian wrestler used all his experience to upstage the Olympic champion.
The bout had him gasping for breath and Sushil Kumar collapsed in the changing room due to exhaustion leaving the wrestling contingent worried. Everyone tried their best to revive Sushil.
I was so tired that I could not move my fingers. Naturally, everyone was concerned, and even Yogeshwar Dutt was there, furiously working away to get me back to shape.
Sushil Kumar then got past Uzbekistan’s Ikhtiyor Navruzov with a little more comfort in the quarter-final and by the time the semi-final arrived, Sushil Kumar was visibly in better shape.
Akzhurekh Tanatarov of Kazakhstan was the next hurdle in his path and the world witnessed Sushil Kumar wrestling at his finest to beat the Kazakh but the latter accused the Indian wrestler of biting his ear.
Tanatarov’s ear was bleeding but the Kazakh wrestler’s team did not opt for a review and the Indian wrestler was through to the final and entered the history books as the only Indian to win two Olympic medals.
Before the final, Sushil Kumar contracted a stomach bug and had to rush to the washroom six times. That did not give him the rest he needed to operate at his best.
His body finally gave way in the final as Japanese military man Tatuhiro Yonemitsu did not allow the Indian wrestler to win a single round.
“In wrestling, the game does not span out as we think,” Sushil Kumar said.
“The Japanese wrestler had also come very well prepared and I must admit that somewhere it was my mistake. I didn’t have a good start.”
Sushil Kumar’s silver was India’s sixth medal at the London Games. This has been India’s best haul ever at the Summer Olympics.
“I felt as if I am serving my nation in my own way and that the entire nation is behind me in this moment of joy,” Sushil said.
Sushil Kumar was India’s flag-bearer at the 2012 Olympics and he did justice to that admirably. The grit and determination shown by him was truly legendary.
I actually came to know later about the fact that I am the first Indian to have won two individual medals for my nation. It made me immensely proud that I could do something good for my country.
With his eyes on the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, can the Indian wrestler complete a hat-trick of medals? Never write off Sushil Kumar.